Share the (Link) Love, But Do It Better

Image of links in a chain joined by a red metal heart

So, you’ve heard that linking out to others on your business blog is a really good way to forge relationships, get some link-love coming back in to your site, help SEO (yours and the other guy’s) … and you’re convinced. You’re ready to link out.

Hold up there a wee moment. There are … rules.

Well, OK, not so much “rules” as “best practices.” Or, to be more accurate, “better practices.”

Here’s a quick rundown on how to link out to other people’s blogs the right — or more right — way.

Whole Post or Excerpt?

Never post another person’s entire article on your blog. Ever.

There are two reasons why this is the Prime Directive of linking out.

First, and most importantly, the other blogger will, in all probability, not be happy. Under copyright law (disclaimer: not a lawyer!), there are a few ways you are allowed to use someone else’s content for various purposes, the most obvious example being that of “fair use.” But it’s almost never allowable to copy and paste an entire blog post on your own site, even when you link back to them and attribute authorship correctly. 

Fair use is a concept that allows bloggers (and others, but let’s limit this discussion to blogs for now) to take a portion of another piece of content that someone else wrote, and use it as the basis for their own commentary.

The key here is that you can only use so much of the other person’s blog post as is appropriate for the purpose of your commentary. That’s almost never the entire post. A paragraph or two, a pulled-out quote or three — that’s fair use.

But even if the other blogger says “Yeah, sure, go right ahead!” you still don’t want to post the entire article. That’s because of a little bit of Google arcanity (Annie’s Note: that’s not a word? Really? It ought to be) called “duplicate content.”

That’s a term you might have heard before, and to some extent, it’s been horribly misused and misunderstood. (Here’s more from Google about the duplicate content myths.) So perhaps this is in order . . .

Warning: gross oversimplification ahead. 

Google wants to reward sites that publish fresh, original content that’s accurate and valuable for the person searching for a particular keyword or phrase. This much, we all know. What might not be so obvious is that Google is not run by people.

Well, arguably, in a general sense, maybe … but for purposes of this discussion: the ‘bots do all the heavy lifting here.

It’s those spiders or bots (pieces of code that crawl the web, looking for changes and additions to all the scads of web pages in existence) that gather the information used to determine freshness, originality, and relevancy.

And if you think about it from the code’s point of view (that is, if written computer code can be said to have a point of view), it makes sense: if two pieces of identical content appear on two unrelated websites, which one’s original?

Short answer: the spider-bots have their ways.

But being spider-bots, they’re limited. One simultaneous instance of co-publishing the identical content might not hurt you much. But over time, and done consistently, yes, you can risk getting penalized for duplicate content.

In other words: If you keep posting my work to your blog in its entirety, we can both get dinged by our beneficent Google Overlords.

So, the even shorter answer to the question that started this section? Excerpts. Always. Or nothing at all (besides your own thoughts, of course).

Creating SEO-Savvy Outgoing Links

Of course you’re going to attribute properly, with the blogger’s name and URL, and a link to the specific URL of the piece you’re linking to, but how do you format the best link?

It’s not just an academic question, nor is it a petty one. Spending a few moments to format a link properly does both your site and the linked-to site some Google-good.

I’ve written about good linking habits for bloggers before here in some detail, but here are the basics if you just want a little refresher course:

  1. Use the correct link to the piece. Don’t just link to the blogger’s home page, because that content you’re linking to won’t always be on the home page, necessarily. So link to the piece itself.
  2. Add the piece’s title to the “title” field. When you add a link in WordPress, a little window pops up with two text entry boxes. The top one is for the URL, the bottom for the title. This will display as a tooltip when the reader hovers the cursor over the link. It’s a nice thing for the reader because it tells her where she’s being sent. It’s a nice thing for the linked-to blogger because it adds power to the SEO juice you’re sending her.
  3. Select keyword-rich anchor text for your link. Every text link on a blog has anchor text — the written words which appear underlined and (usually) in a different color or otherwise visually set apart which constitute the clickable part of the link. If you use “click here” or “read this” as your anchor text, you’re missing out on a super-easy way to give the linked-to blogger some additional SEO juice. The Google bots look at the anchor text as part of their evaluation of what that linked-to page is all about. If you use keywords, the bots think “Oh, coolness, this is about something substantive so we’ll file it under this keyword.” (Note to self: stop anthropomorphizing search engine bots. It’s just weird.)

New Window? Same Window?

Another aspect of good linking is “target.” This field in an anchor tag will tell the reader’s browser whether to open the linked-to blog post in the same window/tab as the one she’s currently reading your post in, or whether to open the linked-to piece in a new tab/window.

There are competing schools of thought on this. Some folks prefer new tabs, saying that it helps them keep their research trail straightened out.

Others say that’s parsimonious — that you should always have links open in the same window.

Both have a point.

What should you do? What makes most sense for you. My approach is to have other folks’ links open in new windows, especially where I’m offering commentary on that piece, but to have editorial links (i.e., links to my own stuff — like I just did there) in the same window.

Want More Content on Your Site? Two Words: Guest. Posts

Now, let’s say there’s a blogger you have a good relationship with. You both share similar targeted readers, but aren’t in direct competition. You want that person’s content to appear on your site because he’s an awesome writer, and you know your readers will love it.

Instead of linking out, why not ask him for a guest post?

A guest post is not a post from his site that’s copied verbatim onto your site. A guest post is where that blogger writes content specifically for your blog. In traditional publishing terms, the author gives your blog publication rights. It doesn’t appear on the blogger’s site at all, except as a link to yours.

Guest posting is a great way to expand the reach of both bloggers, and I highly encourage you to give it a try.

Share the Love, Make a Friend

I don’t mean to scare anyone off of linking out to other people’s content. It’s actually a good thing to do, because it helps you create mutually beneficial relationships, and most importantly of all, it adds value to your readers’ experience of your site.

Also, it builds great karma. I can tell you I totally appreciate getting a good incoming link with keyword-aware anchor text. It not only makes me all warm and fuzzy inside — it makes me want to return the favor.

It’s worth doing, so it’s worth doing well.

Photo credit: Fatido

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tea Silvestre February 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Nice explanation! Sharing this one wide and far.

Sharon - ParkRideFly February 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm

This should be required reading for every blogger. Good one, Annie. I especially like the phrase ‘the prime directive of linking out”.

Annie Sisk February 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Grazie, Tea! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

Annie Sisk February 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Well, you can take the girl out of Star Trek … Thanks, Sharon! 

Michelle Church February 20, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I am with Sharon..this should go in a manual of some kind…oops idea …you could write a nice ebook about do’s and dont’s..You are such a great writer.  When you have time can you write a guest post for me?  I don’t care what topic…whatever it is I know it will be great!

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